Polyphasic Sleep (overview)
Polyphasic sleeping has been an interest of mine for, well, gee, now I feel old but nearly a decade. I did a long experiment with it in college, circa 1999, which I later called “The Uberman Sleep Schedule” and wrote an Everything2 article (here’s the article) about. Articles by other people rapidly followed, along with a steady trickle of emails that hasn’t really ever left me alone.
I knew absolutely nothing about polyphasic sleep. I’m an experimenter by nature, and had already done several sleep-dep experiments, as well as gone an entire winter without shoes. But I had terrible insomnia and other sleep disorders besides, and after a year at school, they really started to drag me down, so a friend suggested a schedule she’d read about DaVinci using, 20 minute naps every 4 hours around the clock, and gamely offered to try it with me. Though I was desperate and pretty used to severe sleep-dep anyway at the time, I couldn’t have done it without her help. The two of us succeeded in adopting the schedule and kept it for approximately six months — until that year of school ended, and I left the college and got a stinky job-thing that refused to let me nap during the day. Fifteen other people tried it with us over the duration, and even with the help of us and often others as well, all of them failed. But she and I loved this schedule, and will sing its praises to this day if you get us going.
That’s it, really; it’s quite simple in theory. 20 minutes (sometimes varies by a few minutes, but generally agreed to be not less than 15 and not more than 30) every four hours. Lather, rinse, repeat. Yes, it’s possible. No, it won’t kill or maim you. No, you aren’t tired all the time — in fact successful participants report heightened energy and mental clarity, which my experience certainly backs up — once you get used to it. Yes, it’s an absolute unholy monsterous biyotch to get used to.
I’ve looked for years for an opportunity to pick up a polyphasic schedule again, and recently I seemed to get one — my job, at least, became subservient enough to me that I could tell it when my hours were, and I opted to come in an hour early and take my two (sometimes 3, on a long day) 20 minute naps. I prepared strenuously, taking tests and tons of notes, figuring maybe I’d write a book about it once I learned more. However, 9 days into my Uberman experience, I hit a major snag: I couldn’t take time off work, but I was still dangerously sleep-deprived to be driving almost an hour’s commute twice a day; plus I was coming up on finals week of a crucial and difficult semester, and had counted on being more recovered from the deprivation by then than I was, so much to my extreme consternation, I had to give it up.
But I wasn’t about to waste nine days of hardcore sleep-dep and all the work I’d put into preparation, and I still wanted to write that book. In the course of communicating with other hopeful Ubermen (the majority, but not the entirety, of whom failed), I’d learned that most people who are doing polyphasic schedules are doing a version that includes a “core” sleep period of a few hours at night. In other words, they’re not doing Uberman; but a sort of mishmash of mini-hibernation supplemented by naps. Some swear by it, though there’s less long-term data than there is for Uberman — no historical figures, for instance, that I can find, and no-one I’ve talked to yet who’s done it for longer than a few months.
I discovered quickly that the sleep-dep during the adjustment period when one includes a “core sleep” like this is, while still significant, much more manageable than on Uberman. I dubbed the three-hour core with four 20-minute naps schedule “Everyman”, because I’m cheeky like that. ;) And I decided to give it a go, record the results, and use them to further flesh out the eventual book on the subject. I sleep from 2-5 a.m. and nap at 9 a.m., 2 p.m., 6 p.m. and 10 p.m., for the curious.
I’ll put a list of links/resources on polyphasic sleep up on a separate page. If you’re interested in details, the “polyphasic” category has the blog I’ve been keeping since before I started this experiment.